By Marilyn Bergman, President and Chairman of ASCAP
Last year, ASCAP and venture capital fund Constellation Ventures sponsored "Musictech East: Making Music Together," a conference uniting creators, technologists and high-level government officials to discuss the latest issues in copyright protection on the Internet. "Making Music Together" was held in New York and webcast around the country, and our speakers included ASCAP President and Chairman of the Board, Marilyn Bergman, Marybeth Peters from the Register of Copyrights, Mitch Glazier from the Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the House of Representatives, Steven Marks from the RIAA, Will Poole from Microsoft, Marc Geiger from Artist Direct Entertainment, Bruce Polichar from IBM, Jill Cuniff from the group Luscious Jackson, and former Living Colour songwriter/guitarist Vernon Reid.
One of the conference's high points was Reid's keynote speech, which addressed many of the conflicts and contradictions that he, as a flesh-and-blood creator, sees in the reproduction of his work in the digital domain.
Good afternoon. It seems that a lot of the discussion about the Internet as it relates to artists these days is about the possibilities the Internet offers artists primarily as a direct marketing tool. For example: ways that an artist can bypass the marketing model of record labels to market their work directly; ways the artist can be in more immediate communication with their fan base; ways the artist can find new fans; ways the artist can distribute a wider variety of releases in different genres than those that have mass appeal; ways an artist can distribute work differently.
The Internet is supposed to be a tool. But it's a tool in service of what?
But since that discussion is happening in so many places, and people in this room are probably at the center of that discussion, I thought I would explore something a little different. What I like to call "the flesh-and-blood" issues that I may want to avoid as a person, but have to grapple with as a songwriter. Because that's what most of us who write music and lyrics do. We wrestle with the "flesh-and-blood" issues as part of creating and expressing.
The Internet is supposed to be a tool. But it's a tool in service of what? Does it enable us to get closer to the heart of the matter of the human condition? Or does it enable us to avoid the thorny questions we don't really want to ask?
. . .whoever defines the terms that we as a culture use to describe things or people has a lot of power. In fact, you can tell who has power in a relationship by who defines the terms, literally. ... we don't write music to "provide content."
Today, we have heard a lot of people talking, and here I am talking, a keynote speaker. So let's look at words. Words can be very powerful. And whoever defines the terms that we as a culture use to describe things or people has a lot of power. In fact, you can tell who has power in a relationship by who defines the terms, literally.
If I called a "plane crash" an "unscheduled landing", you would know I worked for the airline. If I were the brother, or father, or friend or someone who was on that plane, I wouldn't be calling it an "unscheduled landing."
"Content provider." I wonder if there is any composer, or lyricist, or songwriter in this room who thinks of him or herself as a "content provider." Now, our music will end up on the Internet, probably whether we sanction it or not, but we don't write music to "provide content." So, it's easy to see who is defining the terms, who holds the power in the relationship between the technological and creative communities.
As people who write music, who concern ourselves with the human condition, we are writing from the heart, from the soul, about things that touch us or move us or inspire us as human beings. And the people who are seeking out our music are not looking for content to fill their hard drives. They are looking for music, rhythm, melody, lyrics that touch them, or move them, or inspire them. Yet, the term "content provider" has become a standard way of describing who we are. It is a technology term that distances people from flesh-and-blood reality. Creative people, whether we write music or books or create artwork, are the flesh-and-blood reality. We have to eat. In fact, many creative people have to struggle to be able to eat. We aren't paid salaries for our ideas by large corporations with new technology development divisions. We earn our living by the fact that people relate to what we create enough to want to listen to it, hopefully over and over again.
When we talk about the Internet and intellectual property rights, we are really looking at who we are as a culture.
When we talk about the Internet and intellectual property rights, we are really looking at who we are as a culture. There really isn't anything new here, except that the Internet exacerbates certain mind-sets of the culture as it is, like: "How can I get it for free? Now that I've figured it out, I'll share it with as many people as I can so they can get it for free (or maybe just to show off that I was the one who figured out how to get it for free)."
The anonymity of the Internet promotes the "How can I get it for free?" attitude. Someone who wouldn't be comfortable going into Tower Records and stealing a CD, because they would be too embarrassed or afraid of getting caught, doesn't mind trying to download something without paying for it. In fact, the more you can scam off the Internet, the bigger of a hero you are.
We are also a culture of anxiety. Am I good enough? Am I worthy enough? Am I sexy enough? Am I safe enough? While you're browsing on-line, you have these not-so-subliminal messages coming at you -- "This is not a secure site. It can be seen by a third party." What does that mean? Who is that third party and why do they care that I visited that site? The Internet has us scrambling to set up this whole elaborate system of checks and balances. As artists, we are asked to cooperate with a system and a culture when there is no real trust between anyone. How can you create something wonderful without trusting each other? How can you take a great leap forward and cover your butt at the same time? How can we convince the women and men involved in designing technology and making money from technology and using technology that we are here for a purpose other than being "content providers?"
There is nothing wrong with using the technology. As long as we remember what it is in service of. Getting to the heart of the human condition, the flesh-and-blood issues.
Which brings me full circle, back to the question: If the Internet is a tool, what is it in service of? How can we, as creators, use it to get closer to the heart of the matter of the human condition?
A few years ago, when I had access to the first RealAudio files, I found a site with sound clips of Tibetan monks. The sound quality was very poor -- it was this lo-fi sound gurgling out of my computer. But something of their devotion lived, and that was very powerful. It had nothing to do with the technology. The intention and expression of that music could transcend any technological limitations.
This is what is exciting to me as a creator in terms of the possibilities of the Internet as a global communication tool. I could tap into these Tibetan monks and have a very powerful personal experience in my house on Staten Island. I can browse around online and find some "News of the Weird" which triggers some interesting thought streams for me. I can communicate with people who listen to my music and let them know I appreciate their support directly, wherever they are in the world.
As an artist, it is very easy to be seduced by the technological wizardry syndrome. I need the newest gimmick, the fastest modem, the latest model. There is nothing wrong with using the technology. As long as we remember what it is in service of. Getting to the heart of the human condition, the flesh-and-blood issues.
So, with all the possibilities for all of us, as creators, as venture capitalists, as people who use the Internet for whatever we do, to be seduced by the technology, we have to be very diligent. We have to be diligent about reminding everyone all the time, that we are not "content providers" out there to serve the interests of technology giants. We are artists who create music that moves people, that touches people, that inspires people. That's how we live. That's what we do. And the music that we write is what is of real value to the people who seek it out. And that is why it needs to be valued by the culture.